Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Pubic Option

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The current sticking point on health insurance reform is the public health insurance option, with a majority of congressional Democrats favoring it, a handful of Blue Dogs wetting themselves over it, and the Republicans hallucinating about it.  What’s being left out of the equation in Washington is how the American people feel about it.

Polling on this issue has been misleading.  After a June poll showed 76% support for a public health insurance option, pollsters simply stopped asking that question.  Instead, they’d ask overly broad questions about the overall reform effort, and the headlines were all about “slipping support.” Nowhere was it considered that the “slipping support” might have had something to do with the regular reports of the death of the public option.

When they finally did ask again, 79% of Americans said they favor a public option.

What hasn’t really changed, and what everyone acknowledges, is that almost everyone opposes the pubic option.  That’s the one where the insurance companies have you by the short ones, able to refuse you coverage for a pre-existing condition, deny your services with their own death panels, retroactively terminate you if you get sick and made a mistake on your application, and pretty much just build their profits into whatever coverage you get, because your life depends on it.

The problem is, the public option is the only real solution to the pubic option.  There’s no way to pass regulations strong enough to ensure that you don’t end up with cheap, junk insurance that’s already putting people in the poor house (Try to remember the last time your auto insurance paid for anything).  The public option will serve as that safety net, and despite even more recent rumblings that it’s been left for dead, the President can, must, and will make sure it passes.

White House, Big Pharma, We Have a Problem

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In June, I wrote a story that raised big questions about the value of the government’s $80 billion deal with Big Pharma, and wondered if the deal came with the trade-off of killing legislation that would enable the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical compannies for lower prices.  Such a trade-off would be indefensible.

That week, I took extraordinary steps to determine if this was the case.  I spoke personally with a White House Deputy Press Secretary twice, followed by multiple emails.  I also spoke, personally, to the press official for the Senate Finance Committee, followed by multiple emails.  There was no doubt as to what I was asking.  I never got a response from either of them.

That Thursday, I asked Gibbs about it at a daily briefing:

Q Thank you, Robert. I have two quick ones on health care. The first one, in the speeches about the $80 billion deal with the pharmaceutical companies, I haven’t heard anything about negotiating price — Medicare negotiating price with the pharmaceutical industry. I wanted to know if that was one of the tradeoffs for getting this $80 billion was that we’re not going to pursue that now.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, the structure of part of that agreement was to use a portion of that $80 billion to pay up to — for the pharmaceutical industry to pay up to 50 percent of the cost for a name brand drug for a senior that falls between the point at which Medicare Part D stops providing help, and when catastrophic coverage — I think it is $6,500, a little bit more than $6,500 — level kicks in. So filling in that — what’s commonly known as — ironically, in health care — the doughnut hole, about — that up to 50 percent of the name brand — the price for that name brand drug would be paid for, and I think that provides a hefty discount that will bear appreciable benefits for seniors all over the country.

Q Has there been an agreement not to pursue a Medicare –

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer.

Q I’m talking about S. 330.

MR. GIBBS: What was that?

Q Senate bill 330?

MR. GIBBS: You’re 330 bills ahead of me on that. (Laughter.) I will check on it.

Of course, now, the New York Times reports that the White House confirms that the deal did include an agreement to kill price negotiation laws:

In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement….A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.

“The president encouraged this approach,” Mr. Messina wrote. “He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform.”

This is deeply disturbing on many levels.  If Gibbs didn’t know about this provision after the deal was made, then it stands to reason that the President didn’t know, either.  With the Senate Finance Committe stonewalling me about it, one could conclude that they kept the President in the dark about it until it was already a fait accompli.

The other possibility is that Robert Gibbs was left in the dark, a frightening prospect for a White House reporter, and for any American.

Beneath it all is the fact that the government dealt away our right to negotiate lower drug prices (just like any other large customer), and they did it for peanuts.  This is a disgrace.

I emailed Gibbs and his deputy for an explanation, and am awaiting a reply.

Update: Jake Tapper asked Gibbs about the discrepancy at today’s White House Press Briefing.

TAPPER:  Can I just ask a quick follow up?  In June you were asked about the deal and whether or not the deal with PhRMA implied that the White House signed off on no other legislation, such as allowing Medicare to renegotiate with PhRMA.  And you said you didn’t know the answer to that. Was it because you personally didn’t know or because the Senate Finance Committee hadn’t informed the White House of that aspect of the deal?

GIBBS:  You’re asking me to recall why I didn’t remember something in June.  I — I — that I don’t know the answer to. Obviously, the agreement that we have is — is in the confines of health insurance reform that’s being worked on right now.

White House Press Break Room Sells Freedom Toast

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When I took this picture, I had no idea it would be the sum total of content that I’d have to show for my trip to DC.  As it turns out, the briefing was canceled, and the other events were pooled press only.

See, I noted the above snack in the vending machine here, and I am a sucker for this kind of cross-branding.  You know, when one company makes something it doesn’t usually make, like Starburst candy canes, or Starbucks shotgun pellets.  I had to try them, knowing in advance that they would disappoint.

In fairness to Burger King, I do have daily access to the best french toast ever, so maybe I’m not the best judge.

Alex Flies Solo at White House

I’m sure she’ll be along soon to regale us, but in the meantime, here’s a screenshot of our White House correspondent in action.

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Video: Chip Reid and Helen Thomas Give Gibbs What-the-Frak-For

Man, I miss all the good stuff!

At today’s White House Press Briefing, Chip Reid and Helen Thomas went at Robert Gibbs like he was a piñata.  The subject was the President’s town hall meeting on healthcare today, and the manner in which the questions were selected.  Reid starts the show, and Helen tags in about halfway through to deliver the scissor-kick: (h/t Hot Air)

It’s a matter of record that I admire Helen a great deal, and when I say that she (along with Reid) may have been overstating a few things (particularly with regard to “Pitney-gate”), that’s also what makes her such a great correspondent.

There’s no doubt that a significant amount of stagecraft went into the town hall meeting, and the dynamic duo obviously have a point, evidenced by Gibbs’ attempts to avoid it: (via email) Continue reading

New Wrinkle in Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell Fight: Just Don’t Ask About the Told

This week, a new strategy emerged in the effort to keep brave and qualified gay soldiers in the military, despite the still-in-effect-for-the-foreseeable-future “Don’t ask/Don’t tell” policy.  From Advocate.com’s Kerry Eleveld:

Seventy-seven Congressional members led by Democratic Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida sent a letter to President Barack Obama Monday urging him to take immediate action to stop the investigations of “don’t ask, don’t tell” violations. The letter does not call for an executive order halting discharges but rather a change in how the policy is implemented within the Department of Defense.

“It is a presidential moratorium, it is a significant presidential action, but it’s not an executive order,” said Christopher Neff, political director at the Palm Center, a research institute at University of California, Santa Barbara. “They basically want the military to disregard anyone who ‘tells’ [of someone’s sexuality] as long as there isn’t a [Uniform Code of Military Justice] violation or something criminal.”

Kerry asked Robert Gibbs about it at yesterday’s briefing, explaining it well in the process:
Continue reading

Friday’s White House Press Briefing

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The subjects of the day were Iran and Michael Jackson.  Transcript after the jump. Continue reading